On 22 April the court system introduced a huge hike in court fees for civil claims.
This means that it will be more expensive for people and businesses to start a claim and to get it to trial.
The changes affecting small claims are significant. For example, the court fee to start a claim for a dispute of a value between £5,000 and £10,000 has risen from £245 to £445.
The trial fee for a small claim of a value in excess of £3,000 is £335.
The changes have come in for huge criticism. It reduces access to justice and makes going to court more expensive for court users. Wealthy litigants will not be particularly concerned about the level of court fees but a £200 increase for a small claim is remarkable. Many people who would otherwise have used the courts to pursue a small claim could be put off either because they cannot afford to pay the fees or are not prepared to risk that amount of money to pursue a claim.
The Civil Justice Council described the increases as having a “chilling effect”.
The Justice Minister Shailesh Vara responded to the criticism stating that last year the courts ran at a £100 million deficit and “were not immune from the tough decisions we have had to take in order to bring public spending in line with what we can afford”.
His justification is that taxpayers should not have to subsidise court users. However, will the government take a similar stance on the use of the NHS for example? Of course not. The legal profession and court users are an easy target.
Unfortunately, the legal profession has been under attack from the government for a number of years. The criminal bar has been brought to its knees, the personal injury market has been decimated by the removal of no win no fee agreements (replaced by contingency agreements), civil legal aid has been reduced significantly having a huge impact on family disputes and now they make the civil courts significantly more expensive to use.
It is unclear what the Law Society is doing, if anything, to fight back.